Charmed Lives – A work (still) in progress

Charmed lives graphics v1.002-001

The scans shown below are of a working copy of a script I wrote in 2008 for a spoken-word performance called “Charmed Lives”. It is a collection of true stories that happened to me and was made from fragments I had written over several years previously. In 2006 – 2008 I had performed some fragments of the work with some success and I conceived a standalone, one-man show intertwining a number of spoken-word and multi-media elements.

It feels like a major work, although it is still unfinished. So far it’s taken longer that the Sistine Chapel but at least I don’t have the Pope breathing down my neck.


My own introduction to performance art was through Laurie Anderson via BBC disk jockey John Peel when he played the 12” single “O Superman” on his radio show in 1984. It is an audio track from her 8-hour performance work “United States” (1984). I had never heard anything like it, and I had never heard the term “performance artist” before. At that time, performance art was nothing a new, but it was something that did not previously exist in my world in those days.

Being introduced to the work of Laurie Anderson changed my life, although not immediately and not for a long time. My fascination with her kind of delivery stayed with me ever since and, given my introduction, what I find strange about much current performance art is the single action or single observation performance, where someone repeats one thing and the audience scratches their chins and nods in appreciation.

I have come to think that this kind of dense multi-media work is no longer fashionable. At least not at the moment.

My ambition for my own work is to make something that has much more depth and complexity, some lasting interest for the audience beyond a single punch-line, although I’m not against a few punch-lines.

Anyway, I recognised that I could gather a number of fragments together into a coherent whole and make it into a show, rather like what I had seen Laurie Anderson do. I had no intention of mimicking her style, but I was interested in her use of multi-media and the non-linear, abstract narrative.


I organised a work-in-progress performance, which is quite common in that world, and I attracted an auspicious, professional audience, and proceeded to make a not insignificant fuck-up of the performance. It was largely my own fault, but also exacerbated by a good helping of bad luck. Site Gallery in Sheffield generously gave me the use of their studio room but it was double-booked and I didn’t get the whole day of run-throughs that I had expected. When my audience arrived, I was stressed from the rush to set-up and, although I knew most of the text quite well, I could just tell that I wasn’t going to be able to recall it all.

In 2012 I saw Laurie Anderson perform her show “Dirtday” live at Sheffield City Hall. It was highly informing from a production point of view. I had never seen her perform live before, but one thing I hadn’t realised before is that she reads the text from a script. She has a beautiful voice and her delivery is superb, but she doesn’t attempt to remember the text. The show had a very sophisticated light show and she punctuated reading with musical motifs played on her violin.

Where I went astray is thinking that I could achieve so much in one piece of work and in such a short time across a number of very technically demanding disciplines. And with no production help. Having seen some very accomplished performers, I let an initial small flurry of minor successes convince me that I could make a huge leap into the world of the professional theatre performer. I don’t mean as an actor, but even a deadpan delivery requires a huge amount of practice, control and extraordinary skill.

Anyway, when I look at the sweated-over text / script, I am still satisfied with it as a whole, so I think it’s about time I made an end.


If you would like to see the working copy of the work-in-progress that I was carrying around with me in 2008, it is here and it will be available as a download and a print of that version.

Whereas in 2008 I imagined the work as a spoken word, theatre-style work, I think it was more than a little optimistic for a non-professional. The way I intend to finish the work is to publish the text in a book form and record some of the fragments of it as video, and possibly live readings from it here and there. Stay tuned…

Blue Monday? No. I mean yes. Well, yes and no (receiving the gift of sound and vision).


Blue Monday – New Order (1983) – sleeve design by Peter Saville

If you are not familiar with the word synaesthesia, wikipedia defines it thus:

Synesthesia (also spelled synæsthesia or synaesthesia, from the ancient Greek σύν [syn], “together”, and αἴσθησις [aisthēsis], “sensation”) is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes.”

Well, I am a synesthete, and in me it manifests itself as associating colours with words and concepts, and also strongly associating visual images with music and sound. It’s no accident I ended up making music videos.

Anyway, according to some rather laboured logic, January 20th is officially “Blue Monday”, again defined by wikepedia:

Blue Monday is a name given to a date in January stated, as part of a publicity campaign by Sky Travel, to be the most depressing day of the year. However, the whole concept is considered pseudoscience, with its formula derided by scientists as nonsense.

I have only just become aware there is an actual mathematical formula to calculate which is blue monday, although it never occurred to me that this concept was even considered pseudoscience, never mind anything more. I just thought it was a media-invented conceit on which to hang some “and finally” story.

However, speaking as a synesthete, monday really is blue, tuesday is a kind of nondescript, transparent grey, wednesday is grass green, thursday is terracotta brown, friday is black (really), saturday is red and sunday is orange. Maybe this explains why I never really got the hang of tuesdays.

Anyway, I remember the first time New Order’s “Blue Monday” was played on John Peel’s radio show and it spoke to me in a way that I have experienced only rarely. There is something about that track that is so strangely and perfectly realised that it still occupies a truly seminal and nostalgic place in my musical education. I never get bored of it.

Even now it sounds fresh.

Having already been somehow fundamentally changed by the experience of listening to this record, it never occurred to me that the sleeve would also be an experience. I could hardly believe it. To me, the sleeve looked exactly how the music sounded, a deep, oily black punctuated sparsely by hard and warm, primary and secondary colours. OMFG. It’s a synesthete’s wet dream.

I may have written about this before, I know I’ve talked about it a lot, but I’m not a nostalgic person. I hated the 1970s and I remember late childhood and early adolescence as a time of endless frustration. Not because my sister or I were denied anything reasonable (our parents were very liberal with us), but because youth itself was a frustration to me. Having no money and having to go to school were major obstacles to my ambitions.

These days I am not so frustrated, and I am beginning to appreciate my state education more, although the most valuable lessons for me were later on, out in the real world. But that’s another story.

One thing I do miss about the days before the internet, or I should say the days before the world-wide-web, is the enigma of music and musicians. The Human League were only a few years older than me and lived no more than 15 miles away from where I grew up, but they might as well have been on Mars. They were entirely unavailable to me, except through their recordings.

Back in the day, I was a bit of a nerd when it came to electronic music, and a lot of bands used to publish a list of instruments used on the record sleeve. New Order provided no information whatsoever, which was simultaneously frustrating and fascinating.

I don’t miss vinyl but I do miss the mystery and fetish of record buying. By the time I bought it, “Blue Monday” no longer had a perforated sleeve, but this was only a disappointment at the time. In the end even less is even more.

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“You look like I feel” Richard Bolam, 199x

For a synesthete (or at least this synesthete), in those days electronic music was like taking drugs. That phased clicking sound on Sparks’ “Number 1 Song in Heaven”, or that vast, lazy hand-clap on the Human League’s “Zero as a Limit”, or that vocal ah sound on “Blue Monday”. These never fail to satisfy and I can still hear them and see them in my mind’s eye.

In my later years, although I have learned to live with it, my greatest disappointment is that I am not a musician, although I do make music. I am able to make music thanks to various technology corporations including Korg, Behringer and Yamaha, but not so much thanks to Bösendorfer, Stradivarius or Fender.

Even so I can’t complain. I have many blessings, including synesthesia. Despite the fact that I can’t sing like David Bowie, and I can’t compose like Arvo Part, and I can’t perform that beautifully discordant virtuosity of Three Trapped Tigers, at least I can hear it, feel it and sometimes even see it.

I never liked Happy Mondays. My mondays will always be blue. But in the good way.